Wednesday 25 July 2012

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, dies aged 61.

On 23 July 2012 Professor Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, third woman in space, and youngest ever American in space, passed away after a 17 month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sally Ride was born in Encino, Los Angeles in May 1951, the elder of two daughters of Dale Burdell Ride, Professor of Political Science at Santa Monica Community College, and Joyce Hoyce Ride, a counselor at a women's correctional institution. She attended Westlake School for GirlsSwarthmore College and UCLA before entering Stanford University where she achieved first a bachelor's, then a master's and finally a PhD in physics. She was also involved in sport, being at one point nearly becoming a professional tennis player.

In 1978 Sally Ride joined NASA after responding to a newspaper advertisement, and became one of the first six women to join the astronaut training program. Ride was part of the team that developed the Space Shuttle's robot arm. She served as CapCom (ground based communication officer) to the second and third Space Shuttle missions, before being selected for the crew of the seventh mission.

On 18 June 1983 Sally Ride was one of five crew members launched from the Kennedy Space Center aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, making her the first American woman in space, proceeded only by the Russians Valentina Tereshkova (16 June 1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (19 August 1982). She was also the youngest American in Space, a record that remains unbroken. The mission was also noted as being the largest number of people to leave the Earth aboard a single craft to date.

The mission badge for the seventh shuttle mission. Wikipedia

During the mission the crew launched two communications satellites and one experimental satellite, SPAS-l, which flew alongside the Shuttle for several hours before being recaptured by the Shuttle's robot arm, operated by Sally Ride, making Ride the first person to capture a satellite in this way.

In 1984 Ride returned to space aboard the thirteenth Shuttle mission, again on the Space Shuttle Challenger. This was the first mission to take a crew of seven into space, the first mission to carry two women (Ride plus Kathryn Sullivan), the first mission to carry a Canadian astronaut (Marc Garneau), and the first mission to include a space walk by a woman (Sullivan). 

Ride was in training for a third mission aboard the Challenger when the Shuttle exploded during a takeoff in January 1986. Ride served on the investigative commission into the accident, before being reassigned to NASA headquarters in Washington DC, where she founded NASA's Office of Exploration, before resigning to take up a post at Stanford University in 1987.

In 1989 Ride became professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego and Director of the California Space Institute. In 2003 she served on the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the only person to serve on both Shuttle accident investigation boards. She wrote a number of books on science aimed at children, as well as being involved with a number of outreach programs by NASA and JPL aimed at school children. She also founded a company, Sally Ride Science, dedicated to promoting science to young students.

She is survived by her (female) partner of 27 years, co-author of several books, and Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Sally Ride Science, Tam O'Shaughnessy, as well as her mother, her sister, Bear Ride and former husband, fellow astronaut Steven Hawley. Ride and O'Shaughnessy had come out in 1985, while Ride was still married to Hawley, however Ride, who was intensely private, had never sought to publicize the fact widely.

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